INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Although some have their minds made up, other city-county councilors have a lot to chew on before the final vote on the transit tax.
The Indianapolis city-county council held its first public hearing on funding for transit since the tax hike passed by 59 percent in November.
The referendum only gave the city-county council permission to implement the tax. They still have to decide whether to side with voters.
It was standing room only inside the public assembly room, leaving people on their feet for hours, waiting for a chance to speak in support or opposition to portions or all of IndyGo’s plan.
Most concerns deal with the so-called “Red Line”, a rapid transit system IndyGo envisions eventually running from Greenwood to Westfield.
In Marion County, the Red Line will pass primarily on College Avenue and Meridian in dedicated travel lanes that will require concrete barriers and reduce traffic to one lane.
IndyGo publicly stated Monday that they no longer need the federal funding they expected to get from Congress in order to build that Red Line.
They now say they can implement all parts of their plan, including constructions of the Red Line, without the money, despite assertions before the referendum that the tax was not for that particular piece of its rapid transit goals.
Doing so without the federal funds though, will make the entire process go more slowly, further delaying when the people in the city most dependent on the buses actually see improvements to their service.
“They need to go back to the drawing board,” said Lee Lange with the “Stop the Red Line” group. “If they take off the dedicated lanes off College Avenue and Meridian Street, they can fund a much-improved bus plan and serve the community better.”
IndyGo calls the Red Line the “spine” of the newly-configured network, saying it will give people more places besides the downtown transit center to transfer buses.
“By offering connections to the existing services that are out there today and reconfiguring the network into a grid, people will realize shorter travel times, even if they’re not located directly on the Red Line,” said IndyGo’s Bryan Luellen.
Those who spoke against the Red Line, generally spoke in favor of improved access to public transportation, including some of IndyGo’s other plans for east-west rapid transit lines and increased frequency on existing routes.
“I think it would alleviate a lot of stress on our scholars,” said ShaDé Watson, a Tindley Preparatory Academy teacher who came to speak in favor of implementing the tax. “They’re getting up at five in the morning to get to school at seven to try to get their homework done or to try to get help or just to get there so they’re not late and that they get their education.”
For some students, a trip to the east side charter school can take more than four hours round trip.
The same issues with the system were expressed by blind adults who came up to the podium one after the other on behalf of people with disabilities.
At least one councilor, District 7’s Joseph Simpson, expressed that he didn’t believe the improvements would really help low-income families as much as IndyGo and its supporters assert.
Others questioned how IndyGo will support the system and increase ridership without the federal funds, citing contradictions between previous statements about their budget and their stance at the house.
“Ridership on routes where we invest in more frequent service, that’s more reliable and provides a broader spectrum of use, we have seen really solid ridership growth,” said Luellen. “We have data that shows, across the country, when there’s additional service on the streets, that attracts more riders.”
The council will continue to debate this and many other issues in committee, beginning with the Municipal Corporations Committee on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
The full council is set to vote February 21, well before the Congressional budget will reveal if IndyGo will receive “Small Starts” funding for the Red Line.